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Issue 3 - Coming of age

Whisky Magazine Issue 3
May 1999

 

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Coming of age

Whiskies, like people, mature at different rates. Andrew Jefford (himself in his prime) wonders why

Sitting on the table in front of me, as I write this, is my most treasured bottle of whisky. It's a Glenlivet; still largely full, I'm pleased to say. This Speyside is not necessarily my favourite malt, but the contents of the bottle were distilled in the same year that, so to speak, I was: 1956. Now anyone who knows anything about wine will know that 1956 was a year of frosty catastrophe; wines bearing that vintage on their labels are very hard to find, and probably even harder to enjoy. A whisky distilled in 1956, in other words, is one of the few chances I'll ever get of an anniversarial tipple, which was why I made the extravagant purchase. So, hey, what's it like?

It's dismal. Heavy in colour and rather lifeless, it smells of wooden casks and little else. In the mouth it tastes like a spirity oak macerate, with an aftertaste of liquorice and aniseed. It's flat; it's tired; it's old. I don't want to sound cocky, but I'm actually in better shape than the whisky is. (It's a Gordon & MacPhail bottling, by the way, though crucially it doesn't say when the whisky was taken out of wood.)

It was this bottle which taught me a lesson I've had reinforced many times subsequently: that single cask or small-run bottlings are hugely variable. Some are very fine; some are tedium itself. Assuming the stillmen were doing their job properly, all of a particular distillery's whisky
begins life as an identical `new make'. So what creates these differences?

Casks and time. Of the two, tim...

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